In fact, it is typically incorporated into RA treatment plans. The reasons for this emphasis on physical activity are many, and they are good ones. Regular, appropriate exercise has been shown to decrease joint pain, strengthen bones, increase energy, improve strength, mobility and balance. Physical activity also reduces the risk of other health issues and diseases that may further complicate the lives of RA patients.
So what are the best exercises for RA that are gentle on joints?
The first thing to know about rheumatoid arthritis and exercise is that it is important to talk to your doctor before embarking on a new exercise routine or stepping up to more intense or frequent exercise. Your doctor can advise you as to whether your exercise plan is safe and appropriate for your current state of health and level of physical fitness, or may refer you to a physical therapist to aid in making that determination. The therapist will almost certainly start you out on low-impact activities, which are gentle on arthritic joints. Among the most frequently recommended types of exercise for people with RA are:
Whether you simply swim or join aquatic aerobics program, exercising in water is a great way to work on fitness without stressing joints. The water will help support your weight, making exercise gentle on the joints, and provide resistance to make your workout more effective. Additionally, if you exercise in a heated pool, the warm water can help soothe joint pain and reduce stiffness.
Stretching should be part of any RA exercise program, since it works to reduce stiffness and increase or maintain flexibility and range of motion. An effective stretch routine should include stretching the arms, back, hips, thighs and calves.
Walking is great, low-impact exercise for arthritic joints and is good for heart health as well, which is definitely a concern for people with RA. It is also a relaxing activity, good for improving your mood and decreasing RA-related fatigue.
Bike riding, whether you use a stationary bike or hit the road on a mobile one, offers benefits that include strengthening leg muscles, reducing joint stiffness, improving the function and flexibility of knee, ankle and hip joints, and providing an effective cardiovascular workout.
Yoga or Tai Chi
These activities work to sooth stress away and improve flexibility, range of motion and balance by combining postures and gentle movement with breathing and relaxation techniques. Both have been proven benefits to both mind and body.
RA often causes muscle weakness, which can decrease support for joints and increase pain. Strength training uses resistance to increase muscle strength and can be done at home with weights or resistance bands, with a personal trainer at a gym or with the help and guidance of a physical therapist.
It is very important to consult with your doctor regarding your exercise plans to ensure your safety and health. If you are taking up unfamiliar exercises, have been largely sedentary or have advanced RA, working with a physical therapist to work out a safe, effective exercise program that is specifically tailored to your individual needs is also a wise idea. Lastly, investing in a good pair of shoes, suitable exercise clothes and quality exercise equipment can help ensure comfort, stability and safety as you exercise.